Mrs Oakley takes a dim view of my using the BMW that consumed much of her savings to ferry sacks of garden refuse and discarded paint tins to the council dump. She took an even dimmer view when, in executing a three-point turn recently, I missed a marker post behind me and reshaped the bumper: replacing it will require regular success in the Tote Placepot. But it really wasn’t my fault when a warning light flashed to tell us we had low tyre pressure. The garage reported that not just one tyre but all four had been penetrated by vicious-looking carpet tacks: it was either mindless vandalism or deliberate sabotage, which is not a pleasant thought to contemplate.
Nobody else in our village found any tacks in their tyres. We don’t know of any local enemies and so Mrs Oakley came up with an explanation. Aware that I have lately been combing through the Racing Post results most mornings with groans rather than whoops of joy, she concluded: ‘It can only be a discontented reader who has been following your Twelve to Follow.’ That was a little harsh even from one who casts a scornful eye on my punting while keeping a chunk of her remaining savings in the financial con conducted by the Chancellor and known as Premium Bonds. I would never bet at those atrocious odds.
Sandown Park’s meeting on Saturday was my last chance to balance this winter’s books. As ever with the Surrey course, it was a joyful day’s racing that proved to be perfectly choreographed. On the final day of the jumps season, there was a 218th winner of the season for Tony McCoy, who will now be seeking a 20th successive Jockey’s Championship, an astonishing statistic in one of the only two sports in which the participants are accompanied by an ambulance. That winner, Donald McCain’s Dispour, reminded us too that while Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have tussled for the Trainers’ Championship (which is decided on prize money won) it was the friendly, Cheshire-based McCain who trained the biggest total of winners, 148 in all. To cap that, this season’s most popular winner, Sire de Grugy, having previously triumphed in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, was bravely turned out for a seventh race of the season by trainer Gary Moore and made it six victories out of seven in the hands of son Jamie. ‘A lot of people, good judges as well, told me I shouldn’t come here,’ said Gary, ‘but he loves to be exercised. Six weeks in a field would be enough for him.’
It looked for a while as though McCoy would also take the big race, the Bet365 Gold Cup, on the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Burton Port. That would have been a cruel moment for Nicky Henderson, whose champion trainer title had been wrested back from him by the ever-professional Paul Nicholls after Nicky’s top horses, Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig, were sidelined for the season and his best hurdler was killed: Burton Port had been moved from Nicky’s yard to that of Jonjo O’Neill. But in a tough battle it was Nicky’s Hadrian’s Approach, ridden by Barry Geraghty, who snatched victory after the last to give him some consolation for a cruel season. The only blot was that Geraghty was given a nine-day suspension and a hefty fine for overuse of the whip on Hadrian’s Approach, a horse whom he had managed to cajole out of his regular habit of taking the odd fence with him round the course. Hadrian’s Approach idled the moment he led and assuredly would not have won without strong encouragement to renew his effort. Tough on Geraghty, but rules are rules.
Paul Nicholls, of course, had his winner too on the day when his Southfield Theatre won the bet365 Select Hurdle. That was the final winner too for our Twelve to Follow, although sadly only at a price of 15–8. In his previous race at Cheltenham, Southfield Theatre was cruelly denied by the smallest possible margin, a nose, at a toothsome 20–1.
Four more of the Twelve — Doing Fine (10–1), The Last Samurai (at 7–2 and 4–9), Royal Regatta (Evens) and Bob Ford (8–15) — won races and A Tail Of Intrigue, Le Bec (who was going well when falling four out in the RSA Chase) and Redpender were all placed. Our ‘nearly horse’ was Paul Nicholls’s Rocky Creek. He only had three runs, in which he finished second in the Hennessy Gold Cup, second in the Argento Chase and fifth in the Grand National. The biggest disappointments were Nicky Henderson’s mare Utopie Des Bordes and Venetia Williams’s Katenko, virtually the only horse in her yard who underperformed this season.
Overall, the Twelve gave us 42 runs, with 16 finishing in the money. But so disappointing were the prices that on a £10-win stake we concluded with a return of only £225 and an overall loss of £195. To anybody readying the tin tacks I can only plead that had Southfield Theatre had a bigger nose that would have been a profit. The nose had it…
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